In "operating system data itself" in the following text, does 'operating' act as a verb (i.e, 'to operate system data') or as part of noun phrase "operating system"?

In information technology, a dataset can be used through various computer applications depending on the type of data. For example, a dataset can hold information about health insurance records or medical records, which can be accessed by a program running on the system. A dataset is also used for operating system data itself such as macro libraries, system variables, or source programs.

The text was taken from this article: Dataset

  • Does this answer your question? Is there a word to describe this linguistic error? Syntactic ambiguity. This is the classic case noted by Chomsky, with Flying planes can be dangerous, mentioned by ermanem. Note that 'for system data that is operating' is a third interpretation to the uninitiated. Commented Jun 10 at 14:55
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    You don't normally talk about "operating data" or "it operated data". "Operating system" as a compound attributive noun is by far the most likely interpretation. But this ambiguity should be answerable by looking at how computer operating systems function, rather than by abstract reflection on language. Do macro libraries, system variables, or source programs constitute examples of data used by operating systems?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 10 at 15:29
  • We can operate a forklift or another type of machine. But we can't operate data. We operate on data.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 10 at 15:47

2 Answers 2


It’s the noun phrase “operating system”.

While we may think of a computer operating system as just “scaffolding” that runs in the background to enable us to run real practical software applications (processing medical records as data), in fact the operating system also needs and uses data. That data itself is provided in the form of datasets that are not for any specific application.

The phrase does not make sense in the sentence with “operating” as a verb; we do not operate data, we operate programs which use data.


They mean "operating system" like Windows, OSX, Android and so on. It's a noun.

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